Unable to attend church because of COVID-19, a family participated in “church at home” via a live-streamed Mass on Easter Sunday. CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters

Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Pentecost has timely message of hope

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • May 31, 2020

Our spiritual journey in Easter comes to an end with the celebration of Pentecost Sunday (May 31). Just as most Canadians celebrated the Solemnity of the Resurrection in the absence of our parish communities, most of us are also going to celebrate Pentecost without gathering face-to-face as a community.

That reality, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, is hard on all of us. But the message of Pentecost ought to give us hope, and it is especially relevant as we work to keep our parish communities alive and vibrant.

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to serve by using our different gifts of time, talent and treasure. The Scripture readings at Mass since Resurrection Sunday have focused on how the Holy Spirit empowered the early Christians to build up communities.

In a special way the celebration of Pentecost Sunday is also the celebration of our call as baptized people to continue the work of the early Christians. By living the stewardship way of life, we build up our communities where the love of Christ is made real and present.

The spiritual life of our faithful communities is central to the celebration of Pentecost Sunday. With members of our parish communities dispersed by the pandemic, the spiritual life of our parish communities has been interrupted.

Everything we do is dictated by the presence of the pandemic. We have changed the way we visit with the sick and the dying in health care centres, the way we say farewell to one of our parishioners who has died and the way we mourn. I recall a funeral service I had for a parishioner in a funeral home. I found it very challenging expressing my condolences to the bereaved with social distancing restrictions in place.

My phone conversations with parishioners and friends have revealed how they have felt the impact of the pandemic on the spiritual life of the community of faith. During the early part of the pandemic parishioners had expressed their frustrations about not being able to attend Mass to receive the Holy Eucharist. Recently, I have noticed that Catholics not only still hunger for the Eucharist, we miss being with the people in our communities. Many have spoken about the absence of physical interaction and connectedness with others.

We miss the vitality of our parish communities where we come and share our joys, our challenges and offer support to each other. We may have been doing all that we need to do for spiritual support. Pastors have been reaching out in creative ways to their parishioners to offer spiritual support. Parishioners also have created space in their homes to participate in the live-streaming of Mass and participate in other spiritual activities. This new experience of “church at home” has emphasized how we are still missing the spiritual life in our parish communities. 

In a message to the president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference on the occasion of the National Congress of the Laity in Madrid on Feb. 14, Pope Francis wrote: “We are the people of God, invited to live the faith not individually or in isolation, but in community, as a people loved and willed by God.”

During this pandemic, we may have come to recognize the gift of our parish communities in a way that we might not have experienced before. Our parish communities have become our spiritual homes.

We have come to learn that as members of believing communities, everything we do is community-based. We cannot spiritually thrive on our own. We all grow together in the Spirit and build our communities together. We are all on a faith journey together.

So, what do we need to do? Perhaps we may use this period of staying home to reflect on our understanding of what parish communities mean to us. What form of parish communities do we want to build? How can we contribute to building our parish communities so that they may be places of spiritual support and growth for all?

As provinces continue to keep churches closed or severely restricted for public Masses, we might be wondering what type of parish communities we will come back to when the doors are finally fully opened. Our hope is that even though we are not together in our different parish communities of faith, we are all together in the one Spirit. 

As we continue on our spiritual journey into Ordinary Time, let us surrender ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit so we may build faith-filled and loving communities. Have a Spirit-filled Pentecost Sunday.

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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